Bernadette Smyth, Director of the Precious Life
organisation, holds a life-size replica of a foetus at
twenty weeks, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. REUTERS/Cathal
Morocco has blocked a Dutch "abortion ship" from entering
one of its harbours during a campaign group's first attempt to
visit to a Muslim country to raise awareness about safe methods
The Women on Waves ship, which already has visited
traditionally Roman Catholic countries Spain, Portugal and
Ireland at the invitation of local women's groups, had
planned to arrive at Smir, northern Morocco, but was denied
"The harbour is totally blocked by warships so no one can get
in, and there are a lot of police here," said Marlies
Schellekens, a doctor from Women on Waves who had gone on
"We're now working on an emergency plan but we have opened up
our hotline so women can call for information about the
The group, which was invited to Morocco by rights group
Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms (MALI), wants to
spread awareness on land about the use of pills for a medical
abortion and said it would carry out abortions aboard the
ship in international waters.
Like in other Muslim countries, abortion is illegal and
punishable by up to 20 years in prison under Moroccan law,
but hundreds of illegal abortions are carried out daily in
clinics or using herbal medicines, sometimes resulting in
death or injury.
"In Morocco, between 600 and 800 abortions are done every
day, but only about 250 are done by doctors, so they are
safer, while the rest are taking risks," Schellekens said.
There was no immediate comment from officials on Thursday,
but on Wednesday Interior Minister Mohand Laenser, a secular
member of the government led since December by moderate
Islamists, said the ship would not be allowed to reach
"The organisers have never contacted us to seek permission to
visit Morocco," Laenser told Reuters. "Plus, we are not going
to let them in."
Each year hundreds of single mothers are forced to abandon or
give up their babies for adoption because of the stigma
linked to abortion and pre-marital pregnancy.
The Moroccan Association Against Clandestine Abortion said in
June that the legislation on abortion was disconnected from
the social realities of the country and the number of unsafe
abortion required a political commitment for a change.
Organisers of an all-gay cruise in June blamed Moroccan
officials for the cancellation of what would have been the
first visit of its kind to a Muslim country.